And get ready for yet another massive food fight over immigration — followed by a first-class standoff. The Los Angeles Times reports that Joe Biden plans to push forward with plans to offer legalization to 11 million or more illegal immigrants, which won’t come as a shock to most. The bigger news is that Biden apparently won’t offer any security concessions as part of the package:
During his first days in office, President-elect Joe Biden plans to send a groundbreaking legislative package to Congress to address the long-elusive goal of immigration reform, including what’s certain to be a controversial centerpiece: a pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million immigrants who are in the country without legal status, according to immigrant rights activists in communication with the Biden-Harris transition team.
The bill also would provide a shorter pathway to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of people with temporary protected status and beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals who were brought to the U.S. as children, and probably also for certain front-line essential workers, vast numbers of whom are immigrants.
In a significant departure from many previous immigration bills passed under both Democratic and Republican administrations, the proposed legislation would not contain any provisions directly linking an expansion of immigration with stepped-up enforcement and security measures, said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center Immigrant Justice Fund, who has been consulted on the proposal by Biden staffers.
Both Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have said their legislative proposal would include a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants in the U.S. without legal status, and The Times has confirmed the bold opening salvo that the new administration plans in its first days doesn’t include the “security first” political concessions of past efforts.
Had the Obama administration done this in 2009 rather than ObamaCare, it would have eked out of Congress … like ObamaCare did, barely. At that time, Democrats had a few months with 60 seats in the Senate, with the ability to defeat any filibuster as long as they held together on their party line. After Ted Kennedy passed away and Scott Brown took over the seat, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had to rely on reconciliation to pass the final version of ObamaCare out of the Senate. Even though some Republicans would have gone along with a much more modest set of health-care reforms, Barack Obama demanded a much more partisan and comprehensive overhaul over bipartisanship.
The same holds true in this case, only the choice is much less comprehensible. A significant number of Republicans in both chambers could get behind a bipartisan comprehensive immigration-reform plan with a path to legalization. That would require actual compromise in both directions, however, especially on security and enforcement. Republicans will argue, rightfully, that a mass legalization without border security and enforcement will act as huge incentive for a flood across the border, especially while the bill is being debated. They will point rightly to the 1986 amnesty bill, which Ronald Reagan signed while being promised security improvements that never materialized. They won’t budge on security, not even those who want to finally resolve this decades-long battle.
And since Republicans have 50 seats in the Senate, it will go exactly nowhere. Democrats might try a reconciliation maneuver to get around the filibuster, but it’s far from certain that the parliamentarian will expand that budgetary definition to comprehensive immigration reform. But even if they did get that far, there’s no way Joe Manchin signs onto that approach, not with his deep-red state constituents already fretting over his affiliation. Manchin might not be the only Democrat who will worry about using legislative chicanery to pass such a radical bill either; Arizona’s Mark Kelly might find it difficult to win his first regular election after such a move, for instance, as might Raphael Warnock. Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto comes up for re-election in the midterms too, and perhaps New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan might be looking over her shoulder after the Republican gains in the state legislature last November.
So much for bipartisan cooperation! All this proposal will do is create yet another standoff over immigration policy. It might also signal that Biden isn’t going to govern as a careful centrist looking for openings for bipartisan achievements in advance of the midterms. If this is their first big non-COVID policy coming into office, it looks like the progressives have seized the initiative, just as we thought they would — and just as Biden denied would happen.